Readings Tonight & Monday: TO PAY THE PRICE Launches Saturday Night Series while I’M SPEAKING TO YOU CHINESE plays The Embassy of Israel

Tonight we welcome artist from New York who’ve been devoted to the development and presentation of Peter Adrian Cohen’s biographical drama, TO PAY THE PRICE, about the life and death of Yoni Netanyahu. It’s a unique company that rallies around a script and a director, in this case the estimable Robert Kalfin, and follows a play from one city to the next, in order to share its message and impact with a new audience. The play moved many when presented last season in NYC. The author has a useful introduction in his manuscript we share with you below:

Author’s Introduction and Acknowledgment:

As I am writing this play the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians goes on and on. There have been a number of good plays that show how hard it is to be a young Palestinian. This play shows the other side – how hard it is to be a young Israeli.

“To Pay the Price” is based on the life of Jonathan “Yoni” Netanyahu, killed at age 30. He was part of the famous rescue operation at Entebbe in 1976.

But this play is also very much about the present.

When I listened to those who fought at Entebbe, their fate seemed to repeat itself in the fate of their children, and their children’s children as if I were sitting in a hall of mirrors. What I heard was a story of generation after generation of young Israelis go- ing off to fight yet another and still another war. And I began to understand what that does to them; and the price they pay.

I found their words so complete, so bold that I decided not to have them re-enacted on stage in the conventional way; instead the soldiers (and the woman in Yoni’s life) simply tell what happened – what happened then; and what continues to happen now.


In this play: All the words spoken by Yoni are his own; most taken from letters he left behind*; some recalled by friends and acquaintances. Much of the material on the operation at Entebbe comes from the book “Yoni’s Last Battle” in which Yoni’s brother, Iddo, re-counts those last days – a gripping story, filled with telling detail.

* Another major portion of material comes from interviews I did in Israel. In order not to end up with too many characters, I combined similar testimony by different people under a single name. The character of EYTAN is entirely fictional – but his testimony is not.

Other sources used in the play:

** “Self-Portrait of a Hero – The letters of Jonathan Netanyahu, 1963 – 1976”; Random House, New York, 1980.

*** Iddo Netanyahu: Yoni’s Last Battle – the Rescue at Entebbe, 1976; translated from Hebrew by Yoram Hazoni; Gefen Books, Jerusalem and New York; 2002.

* * *

Monday night sees us returning to the work of Savyon Liebrecht, whose APPLES FROM THE DESERT and THE BANALITY OF LOVE we presented in May, 2010 at the Embassy. Will share thoughts and comments about presenting this work at the Embassy in the days to come… And we’ll look forward to comments and responses from others.


14 thoughts on “Readings Tonight & Monday: TO PAY THE PRICE Launches Saturday Night Series while I’M SPEAKING TO YOU CHINESE plays The Embassy of Israel

  1. Had TO PAY THE PRICE been presented in full production, the author’s introduction would presumably have been included in some measure in the program for it: the playwright does mean readers/viewers to know that the Yoni character is speaking Jonathon Netanyahu’s own words. It could have been useful context for the experience of the audience at the Theater J reading if offered before the reading, rather than later in response to questions in the discussion after: they might still wonder who this man is and why we should see him as a national hero, but there would be
    somewhat less reason to wonder why the play gives us what it does — and doesn’t — about him.

  2. good point — the stage directions — or the program itself — might have let the audiences know that Yoni’s speeches were taken directly from the actual letters and diaries…

  3. Several of the visitors on the panel after TO PAY THE PRICE (the author and visiting producer, I believe, maybe others…) opined that there were many plays sympathetically showing and giving life to the experience of Palestinean youth, and (only?) this play to balance those portrayals with a portrait of Israeli youth. Not knowing what works they had in mind, I’d be grateful for a list of titles/names of playwrights, particularly but not only those available in English, that feature positive portraits of Palestinean and/or Arab youth. Perhaps others would as well.

  4. A reasonable request from “esthermiriam.” As a member of the staff, I share part of the Theater J office with our literary director, Shirley (who writes entries on this blog) and am under the impression that in general the dramatic works on the subject of the Israeli Palestinian conflict are written by those whose sympathies are with both peoples. But “the number of good plays that show how hard it is to be a young Palestinian” that the playwright refers to–specifically what those are, I do not know. Perhaps my colleagues can assist in naming them.

  5. First thoughts on the reading…

    This was the first reading I have ever attended. I found it challenging first to maintain focus with the fast pace of the readings, and when focused to impose realiztic images. It was sort of like directing my own movie. Though my attention span failed me multiple times during the play, and I could provide only brief summary (not having read the script), I noticed some interesting things.

    It seemed that there was a difference of opinion expressed by the charachters in their view of the war/ mission.

    I felt that the older man was an interesting counterpart to Yoni. Yoni was a brilliant young man who had become acquinated with his intelligence at an early age, and went on to grace the world with his mind. Contrarily, the older man discovered “the world of ideas” much later in life, and was less comfortable with his own brilliance. It seemed to me that this connection was meant to signal the importance of Yoni as a sort of super-heroic figure; a man whose presence and mind far exceeded his young age.

    The quick back-and-forth dialogue, and shift of time dimensions probably demands a reading of the script before the performance, but it will be interesting to see how how much we can recall afterwards instead.

  6. I thought that To Pay The Price was an interesting play. I had never been to a reading of a play before and the dynamic was something that I was not used to. It was interesting to hear the stage direction read out loud, like it was part of the script. I feel like that made this a very unique theater experience for me.

    As for the play itself, I found the different people telling the story somewhat confusing at first. It took me a while to get into the play and go along with its flow and tempo. But once I did get into the flow of the play, I found that each person’s emotional attachment to Yoni made him or her tell the story in a different way. When his girlfriend spoke, you could feel her love for Yoni in every word. He choices of words to tell the story were affectionate and reminiscent of a lost love. When the soldiers spoke of Yoni, their commander, you could tell that they held him in the highest regard. The way they talked about his bravery made you feel that the two soldiers looked up to Yoni and knew what his sacrifices meant to the State of Israel. The last character was a person whose relationship was never explained but I took him to be a friend of the Netanyahu family. He talked about Yoni in a way that made you feel like he knew what was going on inside Yoni’s head. This was an interesting perspective.

    In all, this certainly was a different kind of play experience for me; both in the way it was performed and the way the play was itself. When I reflect on the play I can’t make up my mind whether I like it or not, so I can only describe it as interesting.

  7. The reading of “To Pay the Price” was thought-provoking and engaging. Like Emily pointed out, it took some time for me to understand the format and dynamics of a reading as opposed to a staged production of the play. However, after I got into the rhythm and style of the reading, I found the reading of “To Pay the Price” an interesting and enjoyable experience.

    What most struck me was the realness the actors were able to convey to the audience. I felt connected to each of their stories and representations of Yoni. I found myself forgetting they were reading a script without costumes, a set, and other usual production factors. It seemed to me that the talent of the actors didn’t need to be accompanied by props in order to tell their stories. This to me was most remarkable.

    However, I did find one exception—I just couldn’t connect to Amir. The actor who portrayed his colleague Shlomo was exceptional; I felt such sincerity in his character. But I felt Amir had this presence, a sort of over-the-top articulation. I didn’t feel he was genuine and for me, it was a bit of a distraction.

    Overall I really enjoyed the performance, and I was impressed by the actors’ abilities. Yoni’s story was a compelling one. His character’s complexity and inner dialogue was really interesting. Yoni’s strength, serenity, and bravery shined through, illuminating the tragic death at the end of the reading and visible in the other characters’ accounts of his life.

  8. Similar to Michael Maiorano and Emily Gold, To Pay the Price was the first reading I have been to. I also found it difficult at first to try to act out the play in my head as there were no physical motions (or at least very minimal movements).

    I really enjoyed the way the script was set up in terms of delivery. It seemed to me it was somewhat of a question & answer script or an interview where the actors were giving answers and the audience was suppose to decipher the possible questions. There were various important people in Yoni’s life that gave different perspectives on the man he was and the character he had.

    The dialogue was fast paced, especially with the soldiers that were in Yoni’s task force. When describing the rescue mission I really felt like I was listening to a recollection of a story that just occurred. The descriptions were in depth, the voices changed with the various levels of intensity of the scene. Another part that was intriguing to me was Yoni Netanyahu dialogue. I did not know that his words in the script were taken directly from various letters and conversations with friends and acquaintances.

    For some concluding thoughts, I would have to say the play grew on me and gathered more of my attention towards the end, especially during the actual rescue mission. Again, it was my first reading so I was lost at first but believe I got on track after a little while. I definitely would want to see the actual performance and wish I read the script beforehand to get an idea of the time frame and historical context and circumstance. Overall, it was a new, but enjoyable experience.

  9. To Pay the Price tells the story of a young Israeli hero named Yonatan Netanyahu (Yoni), who was the sole casualty of a heroic rescue mission reclaiming a hijacked aircraft—and again, I am an ignorant American unaware that an incident like this ever happened—but this reading blew my mind.

    I am basing my critique not from attending the reading, but just reading to myself—and I must say that despite sparse dialogue, the narrative was compelling and really opened the mind of Yoni to the audience. Few people are as candid in their letters as they are in their head, but “Pay the Price” came awfully close. That being said, I am also glad I had the benefit to be able to read, go back and clarify, and read, because the script itself is hard to keep up with!

    Despite the readers not getting a lot of time to practice a piece like this, I can imagine that it is quite easy to evolve into their respective characters, especially if they were familiar with the story. This narrative was one of Israeli success, even through the loss of a young hero—and perhaps the nation as a whole should adapt that mentality. The adversity of the Jewish people is well-known, but the nation continues to overcome all obstacles, even in the face of fear and drastic action. Even with the death of Yoni, they are proud of his heroism and service, and know what the Israeli state prospers.

    Entebbe is a victory over terror for democracy, and I am glad that Yoni’s story has been told. Heroes like him are the reason hope does not die, and what Israel fights for every single day while most people sit safely and innocently, looking past it all.

  10. I really enjoyed viewing the reading the play “To Pay the Price” . Yoni’s story was very well told and his character was very well depicted through the representations of others. Sometimes its better to have representations of a character, than the actual character in the play itself. I think it allowed me to imagine the character more in the play and kept me engaged through out the play. Yoni was only in the play for very limited scenes and that was fine with me.
    The play went through very quick and the scenes moved very quickly through the plot. This was also good, because it kept me engaged and I did not have much time to let my mind wonder. The actors did a great job with their perspective roles and they seemed very comfortable on stage. I think that is what made the play go by quicker and still have the same effect.
    Yoni was a true hero and he was defiantly worthy of receiving all the credit in the play. But at the end of the day he was a human and he did have his flaws. I felt as if the play glorified Yoni to much higher level than he should be. Maybe some of the flaws of Yoni needed some highlighting.
    Heros are important in any culture, any demography, and any race. Courage and valor are traits that are universally appreciated. But I would like to question, “Is being a military officer worthy of the glorification the position sometimes receive?”
    I think its a complicated question that really has no right or wrong answer. Nonetheless, Yoni was different and far more courageous than many other individuals and he is definitely deserved the respect and honor.

  11. To Pay the Price is the first reading of a play I have ever attended. I was at first skeptical because, for me it removes the most integral parts of a play like the setting and audience-character relationships. I was worried about being able to fully enjoy To Pay the Price with these key elements missing, or if I was going to be able to focus and listen without stage movement.

    Within 10 minutes of the reading I knew it was going to be much easier to focus than I originally believed. Stage movement also wasn’t completely taken away. The actors constantly were moving around and positioning themselves in a logical way to coincide with the dialogue and narrative of the play. As a viewer I knew exactly when they were transitioning into a new time period and a new scene, a concept that I thought would be difficult for a reading to portray to the audience.

    For me, the most impressive part of the reading was the actors involved. I didn’t expect much, if any, acting, and I wasn’t sure how much preparation was put into a reading. But the acting blew my mind. It’s one thing to have lines memorized and be able to focus on solely reciting those like they are second nature. I think it would be harder to have continually look at the lines that you don’t know completely by heart, make sure you don’t lose your spot, while also trying to but emotion and feeling into the part. It takes a lot more concentration and the cast did a great job.

  12. “To Pay the Price” was the first reading that I have ever attended, and I was a bit surprised at how it was executed. It was strange watching the actors go through the motions on stage without any set pieces and with just the narrator to describe the scene to us. The story itself was very intriguing, although with all of the dialogue changes without stage directions from the narrator, I found myself a bit lost at times. Overall, I feel that this play was a great portrayal of an extremely emotional event for Israelis.

    The hijacking of the Air France flight was one of the most traumatic events Israel ahs ever had to endure. Barring the multiple wars they have fought against their neighbors, having to watch as their kinsmen were held at gunpoint a continent away, while receiving no help from Uganda reminded me of how the United States reacted to the Iranian hostage crisis after the Iranian Revolution. It is shocking to me that during the operation, only Yoni Netanyahu was killed. After such a traumatic experience, it seems fitting that Yoni became a national hero, and this play does a terrific job to help people remember the struggles of an infant Israeli state.

    The dialogue was set up in a very strange way: as multiple characters shared the stage, we seemed to shift backward and forward in time, both remembering and experiencing the rescue in the same moment. This distortion of the timeline was difficult to comprehend without set pieces and lighting to help give a visual representation of the setting, but the actors still managed to get the point across well. I guess the play was written just as people remember the event though: they reflect on the outcome in the present while also reliving the event in the past.

  13. “To Pay the Price” depicts the life of an Israeli hero—Yoni. From the accounts of many different characters we are able to put together a profile and learn who Yoni really is. Despite the simplicity of the set up, the reading allows audiences complete freedom to imagine the setting, the environment and the condition. This means that by the end of the play, everyone will have a different experience with the play in his or her minds. As the play progresses from common dialogue to intensive gun fight, the actors are able to mobilize their body and syntax to achieve just right tone.
    What I like the most about the play is the gun fight scene and the ending scene where Yoni is having a conversation with his girlfriend. I like the gun fight scene because of the excellent performance and how descriptive the scene is. I like the conversation at the ending between Yoni and his girlfriend because of the feeling it left the audiences.
    Although the reading was about an Israeli hero. it concentrated too much trying to make Yoni look like a perfect being. The reading never talked about the other part of Yoni or mentioned about his weakness. Does that mean Yoni has no weaknesses? Yoni is described in the play as someone who can always fix the situation, someone who knows about everything and someone who has no fear. Is this the type of hero the Israeli people favor?

  14. “To Pay the Price” depicts the life and death of a soldier, Jonathan “Yoni” Netanyahu, in the Israeli army. While a single narrator could suffice in delivering this portrayal, the characters were what made the performance unique. By including characters, such as soldiers in Yoni’s unit, his girlfriend, a man with whom he grew up, and Yoni himself, this play offered a well-rounded look into the life of a soldier.

    Each character in the play represented a different aspect of Yoni’s life. While Shlomo and Amir could speak about Yoni’s time in the military, Bruria knew him on a more personal level. Furthermore, while Eytan offers insight into Yoni’s childhood and family life, the audience is able to hear Yoni’s point of view first-hand as he describes his own experiences.

    The purpose of this lineup of characters is to show the human side of Yoni. He is not simply a soldier with a strong sense of duty who died fighting for his people. In Peter Adrian-Cohen’s introduction to the play, he says, “When I listened to those who fought at Entebbe, their fate seemed to repeat itself in the fate of their children, and their children’s children as if I were sitting in a hall of mirrors.” This story of generation after generation of Israelis fighting in wars may cause people to forget the person behind each soldier. Countless numbers of Israelis have died in war, and it is difficult to forget that their identity as soldiers is not the only thing that defines them.

    While the characters in “To Pay the Price” may have seemed randomly selected, there was a purpose for each of them in offering the audience a glimpse into different facets of Yoni’s life. As the play unfolded, the audience developed a connection with Yoni as a person, not simply a soldier.

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